Pre-Approved Topics List
Posted on: Monday, September 13, 2021 9:02:03 PM CDT
The Social ContractExamine the development of the notion of government by social contract in the writings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. What did Locke find wrong in Hobbes’ account, Rousseau find objectionable in Locke’s theory, and what problems remain in Rousseau’s social contract? Does the notion of government by social contract even make sense, and if so, what is the best social contract that can be achieved?
Civil DisobedienceWhat obligations does the individual citizen have to obey the laws of the state? Can there ever be a conflict between civil and moral law, and if so, to which does the individual owe his allegiance? How might Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience” be read as a response to the arguments Socrates gives in the “Crito” regarding our obligation to obey the laws of the state? What are the keys to civil disobedience? Can civil disobedience be an effective strategy for advancing social change today?
Democracy and Its DifficultiesPhilosophers since Plato have pointed out problems with democracy. What are the problems facing democracy and how might these problems be overcome? What are the keys to democracy? Use Plato and at least one other philosopher or other significant figure to support your claims.
What is Liberty?What is the difference between “positive” and “negative” liberty as explained by Isaiah Berlin? How does the difference between Locke and Rousseau’s understanding of the social contract illustrate this difference? What are the appropriate limits on individual liberty and government authority? How does the “Liberty Principle” put forth by John Stuart Mill add to this discussion?
Human RightsOn what basis can human rights be said to be universal? Explain the difference between the early “natural rights” theories found in Locke and Rousseau and the “conventional” account of human rights in Bentham and Mill. With regard to the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the social and economic rights listed in articles 22-29 just as important as the political rights listed in articles 3-21?
Economic JusticeHow should the goods of a just society be distributed and what role should government play in this distribution? Should there be limits to the inequities between rich and poor? Should there be private property at all? On what basis is the acquisition of private property justified and what limits should there be on the acquisition of private property? Draw upon at least two significant political philosophers in your discussion (e.g. Marx and Locke
War and PeaceDoes it make sense to consider whether or not wars can be considered just or unjust, or is it the case that wars are only won or lost and not properly classified as just or unjust? If there is such a thing as a just war, what are the principles by which it is justified? What are the conditions that Immanuel Kant sets out through which the nations of the world can live in perpetual peace? To what extent is Kant’s idea of perpetual peace realizable today?
Dubois vs DouglassExplain the different views set forth by W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass regarding how African-Americans should integrate into a post-slavery existence. Summarize their arguments and then critically evaluate them. Who has the stronger argument and why? Or is a synthesis of the two a better approach?
Colonialism in Things Fall ApartIn addition to the powerful story of family relationships, Chinua Achebe shows us the tragedy that often accompanies colonialism, the remaking of a country, its values and culture, in the image of another country. However, the story also demands that we ask whether change, in religion and other deeply held beliefs, is always bad. Discuss this dichotomy (change vs. tradition) and whether one is necessarily superior to the other.
Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer: A Kierkegaardian ReadingThe great southern novelist Walker Percy was greatly influenced by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Percy’s first novel, The Moviegoer, displays significant influence from Kierkegaard. Discuss how Percy’s novel displays the influence of Kiergegaard, particularly the presentation of despair.
Simone de BeauvoirDiscuss her critique of the “eternal feminine” and its relevance to the 21st century. How does this critique relate to existentialism? What is the essence of her argument? Is it convincing?
C.S Lewis on the Limits of Rationality in Till We Have FacesGenerally known for the Chronicles of Narnia and other works like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Leters, Lewis is widely considered one of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century, if not all time. While not received well initially by his “fan” base, he considered his final novel Till We Have Faces to be his greatest achievement. In time, many Lewis scholars have come to agree with him. While throughout much of his storied career Lewis emphasized the primacy of reason in Till We Have Faces it seems that Lewis has come to question reason can provide all answers. Explore the problem of rationality in Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”: Relevance for 21st Century AmericaIn Miller’s play, the main character Willie Loman is in many ways a victim of the American dream, of a capitalistic system that is Darwinian in nature – only the strong survive. And keep in mind, this was “way” back in 1949. Discuss the continuing relevance of Miller’s play for our time, for early 21st century America. Have things improved or worsened since Miller’s time? Does the play have continued relevance for our world?
Appearance vs. Reality in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”One of the most common themes in Shakespeare’s drama “King Lear” is that of appearance vs. reality, a common theme in much of Western Literature. All throughout the play, things are often not what they seem. Explore this theme of appearance vs. reality in “King Lear,” formulating a thesis that demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the play and this important theme.
Bartleby and the 21st Century American WorkerAlthough he is most well known for his massive novel “Moby Dick,” Herman Melville was also a gifted author of short stories, including “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” which has been seen by many as a commentary on undiagnosed depression as well as the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. Explore a single issue or theme that arises from your critical reading of this story, specifically focusing on how “Bartleby” relates to the worker in the 21st century.
Environmentalism and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the RingsAlthough Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is best known for the fanciful world of Middle Earth and its cast of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards, the books also reflect Tolkien’s belief in the importance of caring for creation. Discuss how the Lord of the Rings reflects Tolkien’s environmental vision. Note: do not write a paper based on your viewing of the movies. If you have not read the books or do not have plans to do so, please do not write on this topic.
The Place of the Individual in Kierkegaard vs NietzscheThe Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche were as different as two philosophers could possibly be. While they had distinct differences in both style and substance, they addressed some common subject matter, including what it means to be an individual. Compare and contrast their views, formulating a thesis on which you find more convincing.
Power and Gender Roles in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching GodHurston’s powerful novel addresses the distinct ways in which gender and power are enmeshed – the main character, Janie Crawford, is in a continual struggle to find her own voice and live her own life. Discuss how the various men in Janie’s life reflect her own growth as an individual and a woman.
The “Good” in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”Few writers have the skill to craft memorable characters as did the southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor. One of her greatest achievements was her short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Explore the theme of the “good” in O’Connor’s story. Be sure to pay particular attention to how O’Connor’s Catholic faith informs this understanding (in other words, if you’re not willing to delve deep into both theology and literature, this isn’t the topic for you).
Toni Morrison’s BelovedTo call Beloved Morrison’s most celebrated novel is saying something, given her impressive output over the years. One of the most important themes in the novel is the power and significance of naming, especially since slaves were not allowed to give themselves (or even their children) their own names. Discuss the significance of names and naming in Morrison’s novel.